Behavioral psychologists employ an evidence-based approach to understand the link between mind and behavior. Other branches of psychology focus on internal processes of cognition and emotion, and behavioral psychology explores the connection between human actions and environmental conditioning. Modern practitioners rely on many of the same research-supported techniques used by behavioral psychologists since the early 20th century.
A master’s in behavioral psychology can lead to high-paying positions in settings including schools, social service agencies, hospitals, businesses, and private practice. Qualified psychologists earn a median annual salary exceeding $80,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The BLS forecasts high growth rates for many occupations available to individuals with master’s degrees in behavioral psychology. For example, the BLS projects employment for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors to increase by 25% from 2019 to 2029.
Typically, applicants to behavioral psychology master’s programs must hold bachelor’s degrees. Programs may accept applicants with undergraduate degrees in fields other than psychology, but applicants with academic or vocational backgrounds in psychology often receive preference. Full-time students typically earn their master’s degrees in about two years.
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What Are the Goals of Behavioral Psychology?
Behavioral psychologists work to achieve desired changes through behavioral adjustments. Professionals in the field observe and analyze behavior, and they often use their findings to treat patients and advise organizations. Practitioners may provide direct client care for individuals experiencing mental illnesses, developmental disorders, brain injuries, or addiction.
Students in master’s in behavioral psychology programs explore the human mind through systematic, empirical research. Many career options allow graduates to positively impact individuals and communities. A master’s degree qualifies graduates for positions including behavior analyst, autism specialist, speech therapist, counselor, and program manager.
What Are the Benefits of a Degree in Behavioral Psychology?
While earning their master’s in behavioral psychology, students cultivate essential career skills. Graduates often qualify for advanced career opportunities. Below are five common reasons students choose to pursue master’s degrees in this field.
Career Advancement: Many positions in behavioral psychology require master’s degrees. Current educators and mental health professionals can leverage their graduate education to access additional job prospects, higher earning potential, and leadership positions.
Specialized Skills: Behavioral psychology master’s programs cover essential principles and practices of behavior modification. Learners also develop widely applicable skills in research and critical thinking.
Field Experience: Master’s programs typically require an internship, a practicum, and/or supervised fieldwork. These experiences give students practical experience and fulfill common requirements to sit for licensure and certification exams.
Networking Opportunities: Master’s programs often provide opportunities to network with faculty members and peers. Learners can develop professional connections, and online students may pursue internships in their local community.
Salary Advancement: An advanced degree often qualifies practitioners for specialized roles and supervisory positions, which can lead to increased earning potential.
Accreditation for a Master’s in Behavioral Psychology
Students considering on-campus, hybrid, or online master’s in behavioral psychology programs should each verify their prospective institution’s accreditation status. Accredited schools meet standards of quality for course content, faculty credentials, and student resources.
Colleges and universities in the U.S. can hold regional or national accreditation. National accreditation historically serves religious and trade schools, while academically focused institutions typically earn regional accreditation. Learners should limit their options to behavioral psychology master’s programs from regionally accredited schools, as some employers recognize only these degrees.
Students can verify a school’s accreditation status using the searchable database from the U.S. Department of Education. All schools and programs in the database hold accreditation from an agency approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Behavioral psychology master’s programs may also hold accreditation from the Association for Behavior Analysis International, the body responsible for certifying behavior analysts. Additionally, students who pursue doctoral studies after earning their master’s degree should look for programs with accreditation from the American Psychological Association, the only organization authorized to accredit doctoral-level psychology programs in the United States.
|What can I do with a master’s in behavioral psychology?
||Graduates with a master’s in behavioral psychology can work as counselors, teachers, and clinical practitioners. Master’s degree-holders may also conduct research and hold positions in human resources departments, correctional centers, and social service agencies.
|What do behavioral psychologists do?
||Behavioral psychologists observe and interpret human behavior and its connection to mental health. These professionals conduct assessments and interventions to help individuals achieve positive behavioral changes.
|How many years does it take to become a behavioral psychologist?
||Most behavioral psychology careers require at least a master’s degree, and some positions require a doctorate. After earning a bachelor’s, students typically complete their master’s degree in two years of study. Doctoral programs generally require an additional 4-7 years./td>
|How much do behavioral psychologists make?
Salaries for behavioral psychology professionals vary depending on experience and industry. The BLS reports median salaries from $35,950 for rehabilitation counselors to $80,370 for licensed psychologists.
Courses in a Behavioral Psychology Master’s Program
Behavioral psychology professionals must have a strong understanding of the fundamental principles of psychology and behaviorism. Practitioners also need research experience and advanced training in evidence-based therapeutic techniques. To prepare learners for careers in the field, behavioral psychology master’s programs balance practical and theoretical instruction. Programs often culminate in either a comprehensive final exam or a research project.
Foundational courses cover theory and methodology, history, and current issues. Learners become familiar with professional practices through hands-on classes that introduce career skills such as assessment and intervention. Students can explore areas of interest through specialized coursework in subjects such as aging and autism.
The courses below are common to many behavioral psychology master’s curricula. While not all schools offer these specific classes, most programs in the field cover these essential skills and concepts.
Applied Behavior Analysis
Applied behavior analysis is an evidence-based approach to understanding and changing behavior. This course introduces learners to behavioral principles and procedures, as well as the history and philosophy of applied behavior analysis. Students examine seminal research in the field and learn to articulate the difference between behaviorism and other branches of psychology. The course covers topics including research methods, operant and respondent conditioning, assessments, and interventions.
Research Methods and Experimental Design
This course explores the fundamentals of behavior-analytic research methods. Coursework emphasizes single-case research design, in which subjects serve as their own control group. Students learn how to observe and measure behavior, identify dependent and independent variables, assess the validity and accuracy of data, and conduct ethical and reliable experiments. Learners demonstrate mastery of these skills through projects and exercises that involve designing, conducting, and evaluating original research.
Ethics and Professional Conduct
This course explores responsible professional conduct. Students learn to resolve common ethical and legal dilemmas and to proactively create ethical treatment environments in schools and clinical settings. Through readings, case study analyses, and group discussions, learners develop an understanding of ethical and legal issues relevant to behavioral psychology careers. Students also examine current ethical guidelines from entities such as the American Psychological Association and Behavior Analyst Certification Board.
A basic tool for practitioners who work in client care, behavioral assessment involves observing, recording, analyzing, and predicting behavior. This course covers assessment methods for identifying behavioral problems. Students hone skills in direct observation, interviewing, problem identification, and descriptive assessment. Students may also learn to design interventions based on behavioral assessments. In master’s programs that emphasize applied behavior analysis, this course may focus on functional behavioral assessment.
This class introduces key concepts and skills in multicultural psychology and helps learners develop cultural competencies. Students explore how cultural, ethnic, class, and gender differences can affect individuals’ access to and use of behavioral health services. Taking into account the needs of diverse individuals and communities, students learn culturally sensitive assessment and intervention strategies. Learners also examine how their own beliefs, heritage, life experiences, and implicit biases can affect their interactions with clients and colleagues of differing backgrounds.
How to Become a Psychologist
Most careers in psychology require at least a master’s degree, and many require a doctorate. Master’s in behavioral psychology programs usually comprise 35-45 credits, and most full-time students graduate within two years. Candidates may undertake fieldwork to fulfill licensure or certification requirements during or after their master’s program.
Master’s programs often prepare students for specific careers. Some institutions offer degrees in clinical psychology, while others deliver training programs in applied behavior analysis or special education. Programs may also offer emphasis or concentration options.
After earning a master’s degree, some graduates pursue a doctoral degree in the field. Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs typically take four to seven years to complete and require a research dissertation and/or comprehensive exam, followed by an internship.
Career and Salary Outlook for Behavioral Psychology Majors
After earning an online master’s in behavioral science or behavioral psychology, graduates can pursue a variety of careers in diverse settings. Many graduates provide direct care as teachers and counselors. These professionals can work in schools, social service agencies, healthcare settings, and private practices.
Other master’s degree-holders pursue careers in academia or research. Graduates interested in business can work as human resources managers or industrial-organizational psychologists. Below are a few career options for professionals with a master’s in behavioral psychology.
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor: These professionals perform mental health evaluations and recommend treatment plans. They also help clients affected by mental illness or addiction establish healthy habits and create positive behavioral changes. These counselors may serve a specific population, such as children, teenagers, adults, or the elderly. They may work with clients individually or in groups, in inpatient or outpatient settings.
Postsecondary Teacher: Behavioral psychology graduates who are interested in teaching and research often pursue positions in academia. Postsecondary teachers develop curricula, teach classes, advise students, and serve on committees. Many professors, especially at larger institutions, also publish original research. While positions at four-year colleges and universities require a doctorate, a master’s degree may qualify holders to teach at community colleges.
Rehabilitation Counselor: Like other counselors, rehabilitation counselors perform assessments and develop treatment plans. Rehabilitation counselors work with individuals who have physical, cognitive, emotional, or developmental disabilities. These specialists may also help clients access resources such as career training or adaptive technology. Many rehabilitation counselors work in community care organizations and public health agencies.
School and Career Counselor: These counselors help students achieve academic and social success. They may work with students individually or in groups. Using a variety of assessment modalities, school and career counselors help students hone time-management and study skills, address behavioral issues, and develop academic and career goals.
Certifications and Licensure for Behavioral Psychology Majors
The field of psychology has stringent licensure and certification requirements. While requirements vary by state, the licensure process typically involves earning a master’s degree, completing a supervised internship, and passing a licensing exam. However, psychologists generally need a doctoral degree to obtain licensure. Specialized positions may require additional certifications.
To work with clients, psychologists must hold a state license. In all states, candidates for licensure must hold a doctoral degree (typically from an APA-accredited program). Candidates must also have completed supervised clinical experience and the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Some states also require candidates to pass a law and ethics exam and undergo a background check.
In addition to obtaining a state license, counselors may wish to pursue voluntary certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors. Candidates must hold a master’s degree from a regionally accredited institution and have completed a certain number of supervised postgraduate practice hours. Candidates for certification must also pass the National Counselor Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Examination.
To qualify for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst credential, candidates must hold a graduate-level degree, complete supervised fieldwork, and pass an exam. Candidates who attended a program accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI) automatically qualify to take the exam. Graduates of programs without ABAI accreditation must have completed behavior-analytic coursework, conducted postdoctoral research, or obtained teaching experience.
How Can a Master’s Student Pay for College?
Earning a master’s in behavioral psychology requires significant time and financial investments. While graduates benefit from increased earning potential, most learners avoid debt if possible. Many students apply for scholarships to help fund their master’s in behavioral psychology. The scholarships below are available to graduate-level psychology students.
APF Queen-Nellie Evans Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The American Psychological Foundation awards this scholarship to minority students pursuing a master’s or doctorate in psychology. Applicants should intend to use their degree to serve marginalized communities. Candidates must submit a personal statement, a CV, and a letter of recommendation from their faculty advisor.
Melanie Foundation Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Established in honor of psychology graduate student Melanie Merola O’Donnell, this scholarship is available to graduate students enrolled in an accredited U.S. mental health program. Applicants submit an essay detailing how they intend to use their degree to benefit their community. Additional application requirements include a CV, transcripts, and two letters of recommendation.
EQuality Scholarships for Graduate Healthcare Students
Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports graduate students in a variety of healthcare disciplines, including psychology. Applicants must be California or California residents but may be enrolled in a graduate program anywhere in the country. EQuality chooses recipients based on previous service to the LGBTQ+ community, leadership, and academic achievement.
Stephanie Nicole Ross Foundation Graduate Scholarship
Who Can Apply: The Stephanie Nicole Ross Foundation grants renewable scholarships to Florida graduate students. Applicants may be studying psychology, cognitive or behavioral science, or a related field. Applicants must submit a CV and an essay describing their academic goals and how they will use their education to better the lives of others.
NASP-ERT Minority Scholarship Program
Who Can Apply: The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) offers this scholarship to minority students enrolled in school psychology programs. Applicants must be attending either a regionally accredited institution or a NASP-accredited program. Applicants must submit a CV and must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and NASP membership. Full-time and part-time students can apply.
Affordable Online Master’s in Behavioral Psychology Programs 2020
University of Houston-Victoria
Part of the University of Houston system, UHV is a public university that offers 80 graduate and undergraduate academic programs. Students can pursue a fully online M.Ed. in special education with an optional concentration in applied behavior analysis.
The curriculum begins with core instruction in educational research and human development, followed by a sequence of courses covering the fundamentals of special education. Students pursuing the concentration in applied behavior analysis learn about behavior assessment, analysis, and intervention. The 39-credit program is verified by the Association for Behavior Analysis International and prepares graduates to take the Board Certified Behavior Analyst exam.
Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree and submit transcripts and GRE or MAT scores. UHV is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of South Florida
Founded in 1956, USF serves over 50,000 students annually. Ranked among the top public universities in the country, the Tampa-based school is nationally recognized for its affordability. USF’s fully online MA in applied behavior analysis prepares graduates to sit for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst exam.
The 41-credit, cohort-based program takes five semesters to complete. The core curriculum focuses on behavioral principles and procedures in a community context. A supervised on-site practicum in the student’s local area provides hands-on experience to complement online coursework.
Applicants need a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA in upper-division courses. They must also have previous academic coursework or professional experience in applied behavior analysis. USF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
University of Southern Maine
Based in Portland, USM enrolls students on its three Maine campuses and online. The school offers an MS in educational psychology with a concentration in applied behavior analysis. The fully online master's in behavioral psychology program features a mix of asynchronous and synchronous classes.
The 36-credit program prepares students for successful careers as board-certified behavior analysts in schools and behavioral health settings. Foundational courses in educational research methods and special education procedures provide context for specialized coursework in applied behavior analysis.
Applicants need a bachelor’s or graduate degree from an accredited school. They also need a minimum 2.5 undergraduate GPA or a minimum 3.0 graduate GPA. The University of Southern Maine is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Southeast Missouri State University
Cape Girardeau, MO
Located in Cape Girardeau, SEMO enrolls over 1,000 graduate students in 75 different programs. Students seeking an online master’s in behavioral science can pursue SEMO’s six-semester, fully online MA in applied behavior analysis. Committed to affordability, SEMO offers in-state tuition to its online students.
The 42-credit program focuses on behavior analysis principles and methods, research methods, and professional ethics. Electives in subjects such as autism and aging allow candidates to explore specializations within the field. Students complete an on-site practicum to gain hands-on experience in the field. Most courses feature an asynchronous format.
Current SEMO undergraduates can enter the school’s accelerated MA program, earning credit toward their bachelor’s and master’s degrees simultaneously. New students can apply for prior learning credit. SEMO is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
A public university located in Muncie, Indiana, Ball State boasts the lowest tuition in the Mid-American Conference. Students considering an online master's in behavioral psychology can pursue Ball State’s MA in applied behavior analysis with an emphasis in autism -- the largest program of its kind in the country.
Full-time students can complete the 30-credit program in two years. Learners take courses on topics like research methods, professional issues, and behavioral consultations. Online students enjoy access to academic advising, peer mentoring, and career planning services.
Applicants need a regionally accredited bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA. Ball State is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The teachers college, which administers the ABA program, is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and the Indiana Teacher Training and Licensing Commission.
Saint Cloud State University
Founded in 1869, SCSU is ranked among Forbes' most affordable colleges. The school boasts the only 100% online graduate program in applied behavior analysis accredited by the Association for Behavior Analysis International.
The 45-credit master's in applied behavior analysis covers the history, research, practice, and ethics of behavior analysis. Learners complete a 750-hour clinical practicum under the supervision of faculty and on-site specialists. Students culminate the degree with a master’s thesis or a comprehensive exam. A student organization devoted to behavior analysis provides peer support.
Applicants need a regionally accredited bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.75 GPA. They must also submit recommendations addressing their academic or professional experience in behavior analysis. SCSU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Southern Illinois University
SIU offers over 80 master’s degree programs, including an MS in behavior analysis and therapy. The 45-credit program, offered on campus and in a hybrid format, is accredited by the Association for Behavioral Analysis International.
Students who choose the hybrid option complete 75% of their coursework online and attend up to three mandatory meetings per semester at the school’s New Lenox campus. With a 100% job placement rate for graduates, SIU’s program provides comprehensive preparation for employment in the field.
Foundational courses cover subjects such as experimental design, legal and ethical issues, and behavioral observation. Students can complete internships at research centers devoted to autism, language and cognition development, gambling, and smoking. A final research paper or thesis project rounds out the program.
Applicants need a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.7 GPA. All online students pay in-state tuition rates regardless of residency. SIU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
A private school located in Amherst, New York, Daemen College offers a 31-credit master’s degree in applied behavior analysis, available both online and on campus. This 18-month program prepares graduates to take the Board Certified Behavior Analyst exam.
Learners study practical and theoretical topics in applied behavior analysis, with a focus on autism. A 150-hour practicum allows learners to hone their skills in assessment and intervention under the supervision of a licensed behavior analyst. Learners culminate the degree with a capstone thesis. The program's asynchronous courses allow students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree and submit a personal statement, a resume, and two letters of recommendation. Daemen College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Western Connecticut State University
Based in Danbury, WSCU offers a fully online MS in applied behavior analysis that prepares students to work as board-certified practitioners. Learners can complete the 30-credit program in about 16 months of full-time study.
Focused on preparing students for the Board Certified Behavior Analyst exam and licensure in Connecticut, the program covers the principles, practices, and philosophical underpinnings of behavior analysis. In addition to coursework, students complete 1,500 hours of supervised fieldwork in their local area.
Applicants need a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.8 GPA. All online students pay the same tuition rate regardless of residency. WCSU is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
College of Saint Elizabeth
SEU is a private Catholic university located in Morristown, New Jersey. SEU’s fully online MA in applied behavior analysis prepares students to work as board-certified behavior analysts.
The 35-credit online master's in behavioral science begins with six core courses on the foundations of applied behavior analysis. While gaining fluency in basic principles and research practices, students learn the history of behaviorism and how it differs from other branches of psychology. An additional six courses delve into how to affect positive behavioral change. Students also complete fieldwork to gain hands-on experience in the field.
Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit a personal statement and letters of recommendation. SEU is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.